Taking the pulse of a continent: the Australian Acoustic Observatory

Presenter: David M Watson, Professor of Ecology, CSU

Abstract: Ecology and environmental science rely on objective, repeatable measures of species occurrence, habitat attributes and ecosystem properties.  Although these data are easily collected, repeatedly visiting hundreds of sites required to generate reliable baselines and infer future trajectories requires significant investment.  Here, I present an alternative approach, a new way of achieving the same objective measurements and reliable inferences, with a fixed array of permanent acoustic monitoring stations.  Using the same principle as astronomical observatories (multiple partners, open access, permanent data archive), we have installed 400 permanent sensors across Australia, recording sound continuously.  By selecting sites across all major terrestrial biomes, this observatory represents the world’s first continental-scale monitoring array, providing unprecedented resolution in space and, eventually, through time.  In addition to being a cost effective approach to large scale environmental monitoring, this sensor network will provide new ways for the wider community to engage with nature, defining new ways to collaborate, share and learn while informing policy and planning.

Biosketch: Dave is an environmental scientist based at CSU’s Albury campus, leading a research group focusing on wildlife ecology, connectivity conservation, biodiversity monitoring and plant-animal interactions.  After his undergraduate and honours degrees at Monash University, he completed his doctoral research at The University of Kansas, using cloud forests in southern Mexico to understand the long-term consequences of habitat fragmentation.  In addition to his work on ecoacoustics and ecosystem science, he is an international authority on mistletoes, and uses parasitic plants as model systems to study ecological networks and evolutionary dynamics.  While most of his research is centred in the woodlands of southern Australia, Dave works in a wide range of ecosystems, from central Australian deserts to South American rainforests.